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Goodbye Wisconsin

This essay first appeared in the Labor Day 2017 copy of Madison’s Union Labor News:

Good Bye, Wisconsin

By Mike Konopacki

Time travels at the speed of life. After 66 years I’ve left the state that I grew up in. After 46 years I’ve left the city and the people that have shaped me. In June of 2017 Linda and I sold our house near Vilas Park to begin retirement. We both grew up in Manitowoc, on the shores of Lake Michigan. The beach that Linda and I loved in our childhood has beckoned again, now it is the Atlantic Ocean at St. Augustine, Florida.

Leaving Wisconsin isn’t an easy thing to do. But given how our home state has betrayed its Progressive and New Deal legacy, Linda and I feel we are just leaving one Confederate State for another. At least Florida has milder winters. I can now give up winter biking and shoveling snow.

Linda and I are not alone. Recently my friends Nikki Mandell and Rick March also left Wisconsin. Nikki is a retired history professor from UW Whitewater and Rick was an influential folklorist for the Wisconsin Arts Board. Recently Rick wrote, “The Republican government visited upon our formerly progressive state every outrage on the reactionary wish list. Ultimately, Nikki and I opted to relocate to Portland, Oregon for a better climate, weather-wise and political.”

I came to Madison in 1971 to finish my BA in Political Science. My interest in politics came in the early 60s when our Catholic school comic books warned us of “This Godless Communism.” As a Cub Scout during the Cuban Missile Crisis I distributed “fall-out shelter” brochures. After high school graduation in 1969 the Vietnam War threatened with the draft. But in July of 1970 Nixon’s draft lottery gave me a high draft number, freeing me to finish my degree at UW Madison.

August of 1971 was one year after the Sterling Hall bombing. This was a heady time. Cops were still tear-gassing State Street. I admit I spent more time seeking out blues bands than engaging in politics, but when Watergate broke I got my first cartoon published in the Daily Cardinal. For the next year I contributed anti-war and Watergate cartoons. I decided that after graduation I’d become a full-time political cartoonist.

In 1973, Linda and I married. She found work as a registered nurse in the UW Hospital emergency room. Still in school, I spent my first summer as a husband teaching myself cartooning and devouring Watergate hearings on TV and reading the papers.

That fall I took a part-time school bus driving job for Madison Metro. In between morning and afternoon shifts I worked on my cartooning. After graduation I got some cartoons published in the Capital Times and was later syndicated by Rothco Cartoons in Yonkers, NY. In 1977 the workers at the Capital Times and Wisconsin State Journal went on strike. The Madison papers busted the unions to facilitate the computerized transition from “hot type” to “cold type.” The workers created a strike paper called the Madison Press Connection. I contributed my Rothco cartoons to the PC until August of 1978 when the paper’s regular cartoonist left. For the next 16 months I did five local and state cartoons a week and learned how to do activist cartoons on behalf of working people. That was my introduction to labor cartooning. In 1983, Racine native Gary Huck and I created Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons.

Every thing I know about the labor movement I learned first hand from the workers at the Press Connection and the great people and activists at the Madison Federation of Labor, later the Dane County Labor Council, and now the South Central Federation of Labor. To all of these special people, too numerous to mention, I am deeply grateful.

Leaving my friends in Wisconsin has filled me with a sense of loss, but will keep in touch and I intend to continue cartooning for the labor movement.

I blame my upbringing in Madison for my choice of beach reading. I discovered the Jacksonville writer Stetson Kennedy. My first two books from the library are his Jim Crow Guide: The Way It Was, and his expose of the KKK, The Klan Unmasked. I also read Rick March’s book A Great Vision: A Militant Family’s Journey Through the 20th Century. These books offer hope in desperate times. As Rick writes in A Great Vision, “Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, we face the same challenges on a national level as the citizens of Wisconsin faced under Walker. Now progressives everywhere need to work smart, remain active, resist and not be demoralized.”

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